press event a few years back, with photos posted to their website and the Internet. According to the late Jobs, Apple invested
more than $100 million at the time to engineer and construct
17 anechoic chambers to test their iPhones. The test chambers
were used to test Bluetooth devices, cellular base stations, and
replicating a host of environmental conditions that could
impact the iPhone’s performance.
One hundred million dollars isn’t chump change. But you
don’t need to have Apple’s budget to meet your requirements.
Test chambers can be custom designed or purchased from an
established supplier to meet relatively standard testing requirements. They available new or used, and as of this writing,
there are even several test chambers for sale on eBay, ranging
in price from a few hundred dollars to five figures.
Checklist for the facilities engineer
So, you need a test chamber for the latest imaginings of your
R&D department. Following is a brief checklist as you head
down that that happy trail:
• First, think about the items outlined above (yes, you do
need to read the entire article). And remember, size matters.
Building a new structure is a bit different than placing a pre-
fabricated test chamber on a bench and hooking it up.
• Talk to your R&D, operations, and manufacturing people;
they need to be responsible for specifying the performance
parameters. You need to be responsible for ensuring it gets
correctly hooked up and functional.
• Don’t forget the details. Do they need access to handle the
samples being tested? The ability to observe visually? Do you
need to light the interior? (If so, be sure to compensate for
any excess heat from the light source.) Would surrounding or
episodic vibration be an issue? What other surrounding conditions could impact the test chamber operation, efficiency,
or accuracy — electro-magnetic interference?
• Required life expectancy?
• Do you need custom, or will used do?
• Networking requirements?
• What level of user control and programming will be required?
• Calibration requirements upon installation and on an
• Workflow and process considerations?
Once you have these questions answered, your responsibility is to engineer the hook-up, oversee the installation and
calibration, and make provisions for maintenance and repair.
The devil is in the details and the details are in the standards.
Several organizations have tackled this challenge, and provide
a wealth of information well beyond the scope of this column.
Here are a few resources:
• American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM):
• The Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology
• American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-
Conditioning Engineers: www.ashrae.org
• NSF International: www.nsf.org
• International Organization for Standardization: www.iso.org
Richard Bilodeau’s 30-year career includes plant engineering
positions in clean manufacturing. He has designed, operated,
construction, temperature control standards, and engineering tolerances.
the Inside Out